By PrincessSafiya Byers
This story was originally published by Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service, where you can find other stories reporting on fifteen city neighborhoods in Milwaukee. Visit milwaukeenns.org.
All Nubian Simmons wanted was to have dessert like everyone else. But her severe wheat and dairy allergy made that next to impossible.
So she started baking for herself.
First, it was so she could enjoy foods she liked. Then it was for others. Now her baked goods line, The Pink Bakery, sells allergen-free cookie and brownie mixes nationwide.
“When we would go out, my siblings and mom would have brownies, ice cream and crème brûlée, and I would get orange slices,” Simmons said. “Sad little orange slices. There was nothing on the market to satisfy my pallet.”
With no experience, she started baking. It took her five years to perfect her allergen-free desserts.
“I just wanted it to taste good,” she said.
She enlisted her mother and siblings to be her taste testers.
“Someone once said her treats taste like failure,” said her mom, Janice Simmons. “And they do. For five years we were tasting desserts. I got burnt out on chocolate.”
During her summers in high school, Simmons’s mother would send her to engineer camp at Marquette University.
“Everything goes back to engineering,” she said. “To make a good substitute, you have to understand that sugar tears down a structure, but flour supports a structure.”
Simmons, 42, lived in Memphis, Tennessee, where she ran a bakery serving allergy-free goods before moving home to Milwaukee.
Returning to Milwaukee
She was inspired to launch her line when St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis asked her to provide baked goods for an event it was throwing.
Simmons meant for The Pink Bakery to launch in Memphis, but life had other plans. She’d found a space to build a manufacturing facility but said things went wrong and then COVID hit. Her mom encouraged her to come home.
“When I left Milwaukee, it wasn’t a good place for Black people,” she said. “I have been pleasantly surprised at the love and support I’ve received since being back.”
She returned to Milwaukee in August 2020 and found her ideal space for a manufacturing facility on the Near West Side.
And she continues to remember the people she serves.
“I think everyone I’ve baked for has been special in their way,” Simmons said. “I remember baking a birthday cake for twins who were turning 5 and because of their allergies they’d never had a cake before.”
She recalled a time when a restaurant accidentally put a regular noodle in her food, and she lost her hearing for a month.
“It was the chef’s first day and an honest mistake,” she said. “But something so small did a lot of damage.”
Janice Simmons said it’s important to listen to your children.
“Before we even knew of her dairy allergy, she would shy away from it and pull the cheese off of her pizza,” she said. “Kids know when something is not right with their bodies even if they don’t know how to say it. You have to listen.”